[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Knight: First, I want to say that I am very honored to begin this series with you. I think this is going to be fun. I've been looking forward to this.
Campbell: Oh, I think it will be fun, too, but you don't need to be honored. My goodness, I'm honored to have you come interview me.
Knight: It works both ways. Let's start today with your early life. I'm very interested in how it relates to what you later did, how you thought about writing, and the influence your parents had—that kind of thing. Maybe we can start with your folks.
Campbell: Oh, I love to start with my mother.
Campbell: My mother was the wittiest and cleverest, most intelligent, most compassionate person that I ever saw. She also was 4'11", red hair, and was so full of fun. [Laughter.] My sisters and I—I had twin sisters, just three years younger—always talked about how much fun it was to work, and our friends thought we were crazy. When we described doing the floor, the hardwood floor in the living room, on Saturdays, you know, polishing it, and at that time we hadn't any equipment. We had bricks that we wrapped flannel around after we put the polish on, and we shined with them. And the reason it was fun is because although Mother wasn't working on the floors, she was doing other more important things. She was in and out all the time, and occasionally might sit down at the piano and play something funny, and just saying things. She didn't tell jokes, but as she spoke about whatever our problems were or activities, past or present, she made us laugh, just the way she phrased things, I guess. I can't do it myself, so I don't know exactly what it was, but we all—I have a younger brother, too—just thought it would be so great if we could be as funny as Mother was, and none of us ever were. But I do think we all have a sense of humor, and maybe she helped with that.
But she was a very good writer. She had been to college, which nobody else in Elwood, Oklahoma, had—no other woman. There were men, I suppose. And then we moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 25 miles away, where the Phillips Petroleum Company was, and there were a lot of people with lots of money, but not much education. So Mother was always being the president of whatever—Waukegan Club or Tuesday Club, or what have you. She had me—this fits into your question, I hope—recite "By my troth, Nerissa," when I was five years old at the Tuesday Club. People still say, after I was grown and gone and everything, but I go back sometimes, and they'll say, "I've never forgotten that you knew Shakespeare when you were five." [Laughter.] But that was Mother. She had gone to the University of Arkansas. She used to say, "Fayetteville's built on 11 hills, Rome on only seven." You know, just her
conversation would make you smile. So she was very intelligent and very much fun to be with.
Dad was dignified and direct, a good businessman. He and Mother somehow managed to get together on the discipline for the children, and it was pretty good, pretty strong. Mother could do it usually in a much more easy-on-us way, even if it was the same thing, because of this humor thing. But at any rate, that was a lot of my beginning.
I don't really remember my early childhood. I mean, individual things come back to me when I'm reminded of them, but when I try to think about it, other than reading, which I did all of the time, and Mother kept buying books, and we'd go to the library. I don't remember the library in Nowata, no, not really. But in Bartlesville, where we moved when I was 12, it was almost like home. I spent a certain amount of every day there on my way home from school or something like that. I loved to read. If I had any trouble understanding anything, Mother could help, and so could the teachers, of course. I made very good grades. That was just because, I guess, although nowadays people don't always want to teach children to read, for instance, before they go to school. I remember one of my children's first grade teachers said she preferred that children didn't know how to read. The pre-school that all three of the children went to did not teach reading. If anybody asked questions, they answered them, and that's what I did at home.
Knight: Your own children, when they went to school?
Campbell: Yes, when they went to pre-school, they didn't. Some of them knew how to read and some didn't. Sandy did, Steve didn't, Vicki did. [Laughter.] But as I say, they hadn't been taught it. I didn't teach them.
Knight: Did your mother teach you to read before you went to school?
Campbell: Well, I just learned. She answered my questions, and that's how I was able to recite Shakespeare at age five, before I went to school. But you know, that was one thing I knew. I knew lots of poetry—Longfellow, Tennyson, other romantic people.
The first time that I remember thinking about writing myself, I'm almost sure that I thought about it before, and that I wanted to write novels, because I was very interested in novels, and I did write poetry occasionally, but I didn't think anything of it. It was part of reading, you know. You'd see an idea that interested you, and write a little poem. It wasn't a very good poem. [Laughter.]
Knight: Do you still have them?
Campbell: No. I didn't save them at all. Then I moved to Bartlesville when I was 12, and there I do remember getting interested in the newspaper, for instance, as a reader, not any other way, particularly, at 12. But I wrote a good many papers, you know. Teachers had you write an essay or a story, whatever they called them at that point, and I was better at that than other things. But I also got good grades because I'd just been taught that you give everything the best you have in you. [Laughter.] And if it's harder for you to do math than it is English, you just work harder, and, you know, you can do it.
Am I starting along the line that you're interested in?
Knight: This is exactly what I'm interested in. I think it's very interesting to find out how your parents raised you affects how you think about your life as you grow up, because it does affect you. It chooses your career, it chooses the way you think about your career.
Campbell: In spite of the fact that I was so lucky, I knew people whose parents had chosen their careers for them. Mine did not. They did not tell me what I needed to do to work.
Knight: What kind of things would they say? What do you think their expectations were? Were they ever voiced in any way?
Campbell: Never, except for many compliments, Mother particularly. Whenever I did anything well, she said so, or mentioned whether I did it well or not. I'm never sure. [Laughter.] I think so. They would have seen that I was on the track of some kind of writing, I think, because by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I had tried out for the paper, the Nautilus, and got on the staff. I was co-editor of it my junior and senior years. This was very exciting, but it was no more exciting than the debate team, which I got on, too, my junior year. We travelled around the other little towns in Oklahoma. My senior year, another girl, Margaret Stewart, and I were the two-man debate team for Bartlesville High School. We won the state prize as the state's best high school debate team. We went down to Norman, where the university was; that was pretty exciting.
In the meantime, the teacher had a lot to do with helping me. I say "the teacher"—that leaves it a little hung over, but she was Fay Marie Bonjour, and taught not French, which she might have very well, but she was the advisor to the paper. She also taught English. She was, I'm sure, the reason that we won that prize, because she was a marvelous advisor. Margaret Stewart and I didn't know anything about debating, but we did know about—and this was our teachers and our parents, I'm sure, in many years, all the years we were growing up—finding out about things. When you're on a debate team, you have to find out about everything, or your opponent will bring it up in the last rebuttal, and you won't have a chance.
I think that, actually, my debate experience did more for me in preparing me for journalism—I don't like the word journalism, but for working on newspapers. I remember after I worked on a paper and found out how lowly a reporter was, I met Dorothy Thompson, who was the most outstanding newspaperwoman in the United States at that time. I met her through her husband, Sinclair Lewis—Red Lewis—who was a friend who wrote a play in which my sister appeared as the star. They got to be friends. So when I had gone to New York to see her, I had gotten acquainted with him, and he took me up to see Dorothy. They were divorced then, but he still called on her. Three of the young men who were apparent assistants or working with her on her column for the New York Herald Tribune were there, so the six of us, she and the three young men, who were just about my age, my sister, and Red Lewis, sat there and argued all kinds of subjects. Oh, you can imagine how excited I was when I went home! Oh! But she didn't mind being referred to as a journalist. I had learned, probably learned it from my city editor or somebody, that journalist was a bad word.
Campbell: Well, because they're "pompous asses." You know, that's what I was told. I didn't know what either word meant at the time. [Laughter.] But at any rate, a lot of newspaper people feel that way about it, especially in the Middle West. The word
is used here in Washington much more than it was in Oklahoma City or Springfield, Missouri, where I lived, or in St. Louis or in Kansas City, where I spent a great deal of time.
Knight: How would a journalist differ from a newspaper person? Is it an attitude?
Campbell: Smart-aleck. Maybe that isn't the word. Not necessarily more aggressive, not as aggressive. Oh, I don't know. They're just out there somewhere. They're not real. Reporters and editors are real, and even columnists. I was a columnist when I was 21, but it was really a lie. As a matter of fact, I got the paper into a lot of trouble, and I had to preach a sermon, which, you know, is not exactly the thing to do.
Knight: Had the term "journalist" come from the East, or was it associated with the East?
Campbell: Yes. In Oklahoma at that time, when I was growing up— it's changed a good deal now, I'm afraid—but it was a very adventurous sort of state still, in the early 1900s. It became a state in 1907, and there was a great deal of openness to new ideas and willingness to take chances that I didn't find to the same extent when I came East. Then from here—remember, I've been here over 50 years—I watched Oklahoma get more conservative year after year, and Oklahomans make speeches in various places, back in Oklahoma and on the floor of one of the houses of Congress, that I couldn't believe, because they didn't admit there was another side, even if they believed in one.
I was taught that there's always another side; you have to learn what it is, if you're going to make your views win. Except that, of course, as long as I was in the newspaper business, I was taught—and I believed, and I still believe—that a reporter does not take sides. Of course, this is part of what I was talking about. Every human being with a brain has to have a feeling about something, as to whether this is good or bad, and often it takes years to go through finding out what your opinion is. But as far as being a reporter on a newspaper, you don't let that opinion get into the picture.
Knight: Let me go back to your folks. You mentioned your sister was an actress.
Knight: What happened to the other kids?
Campbell: The twin sisters. When I went to college, business was fine, and Dad, I remember, wrote out the check. I went to a girl's boarding school, Christian College in Columbia, Missouri, my first year. Daddy wrote out the check in advance for the whole year. Of course, I think it was about $500 or something like that, because I had to write them out for a lot more than that when my children went to college. [Laughter.] But at any rate, I went in '25, and Flo and Dottie came along in '28 to go in '29, and things had gotten a lot worse. My dad was having a real trouble. So he just couldn't see how he could finance sending two children to college the same year. But he and Mother were both trying to figure it out, how it could be done. Whenever we needed a little money, Mother could always teach music. Her mother had taught music, and she had, too—piano and organ, I guess. [Tape Interruption.]
Campbell: Here is a housewarming picture when Flo, the actress one, that's she, and Ben finished rebuilding this barn into a very lovely house up in Darien, Connecticut,
they had a housewarming. Mother had died, but Dad was still alive. He must have been 70 or something. Then this is the young brother who is 11 years younger than I am, who was a professor at the University of Illinois, old English, and was at Princeton, teaching there for a long time. His wife and three children.
Knight: Flo was the actress.
Campbell: Yes. Then Dottie is the other twin. Here she is with her husband and one son, a lawyer, the other works for Campbell Soup. Her husband was with Owens [Illinois] Glass Company. She went—well, I'd better go back a little bit. Flo said to Mother and Daddy, "Look. I am going to be a violinist. There's no use worrying about sending me to college. I'm going to Chicago and study under Leopold Auer, and somehow I'm going to do it. I can get a job up there."
That was preposterous, Daddy said; she couldn't do it.
Knight: He said she couldn't?
Campbell: That's right.
Knight: How come?
Campbell: Well, a girl, mere 16 or 17 years old going to Chicago by herself in 1920-whatever it was! Almost every man in town agreed with him. I mean, you just didn't let things like that happen. But Flo just went. [Laughter.] So I wrote to Dottie. I was working in Springfield at the time. I had a sort of a big one-room apartment that also was an efficiency. It was in a house, and it had been the living room of the house once. She could come live with me and go to Drury College, which was an excellent school. So that's what we did. She came to stay with me, and she had her room and board as much as she wanted, and Daddy and Mother could send her something, and I think I loaned Flo a little money.
But anyhow, Flo was in Chicago at the Chicago Musical College with Sametini and Leopold Auer. But they were in touch, naturally, twins, and Flo was lonesome for Dottie, and Dottie was lonesome for Flo.
Knight: Were they identical?
Campbell: No, no. Flo is taller, for one thing. They looked very different when they were real little. Flo was sort of a tomboy. She liked to wear shorts rather than dresses. Mother made the mistake once of buying them twin clothes—never again, because they never wore them on the same day. Even when she dressed them in them when they were little, one of them would go back in and change. [Laughter.]
But at any rate, so Flo talked Dottie into coming to Chicago, and she shared an apartment with her and another girl, Bea Churchill, and she went to the Goodman School of Dramatics, at the Art Institute, to learn to be an actress. So that's what I needed to tell you about them.
My brother, Jack, has just retired. I talked to him the other night. He's been at the Huntington Museum right out of Los Angeles, for two months, writing some kind of a learned article on old English.
This picture was after Joe died. With me is my oldest boy Sandy, 12; Steve, 3 years younger and Vicki, four years younger than he. Here's a picture of Joe.
Joe was president of the National Press Club, and President Truman was congratulating him.
Knight: Do you think that your brother was raised any differently than you were?
Campbell: Oh, yes
Campbell: Oh, Mother wrote once and said, "I don't know whether Jack's going to make a little boy out of me, or I'm going to make an old lady out of him." [Laughter.]
Knight: What did she mean?
Campbell: Well, you know, there was so much difference, really, it seemed to her. He was after we were all gone, and when she became ill with cancer, he was nine. She was very lucky in that she had an operation, and it [the cancer] did not return for five years. So she was so thrilled that she had that extra five years with Jack. You know, the difference between nine and 14 is a great deal.
[Laughter.] Oh, I remember another thing. She wrote wonderful letters. I got a letter from her saying that they had been out in the oil field, and Jack got acquainted with some of the boys. When he came in, he said, "Mother, do these boys have to use cussing for a language?" [Laughter.] So you could see she was still teaching him to read and to write and all the things, just like she did me and the other girls.
Knight: How did your parents respond to the choice of you three girls' careers?
Campbell: They just sort of accepted them, really. Let's see. At the time my sisters had both gone to New York. Flo won the Eva Le Gallienne which gave her a year at the repertory theater in New York, free. So Dottie went along. By this time, Daddy was making more money again. I mean, the Depression was letting up a little bit, so they were able to have help from home. In the summer, I guess, Dottie—not Flo, who became the actress, a rather famous actress with her name in lights on Broadway—but Dottie, the other sister, met Ray Moore, who was the owner and supervisor of the Cape Playhouse at Dennis, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. She and Flo went to see him, and the upshot of it was that he said, "Why don't you both come up?" In the meantime, Dottie's married to a very successful young man, but he hates for her to be in New York in the summer, and he has to stay there. So he thinks it's fine if she wants to go to Cape Cod. So they become a part of what was called the actors group of students, and they learn to do everything from moving furniture, you know, to do the sets, and fixing, pulling the things up and down for running the play in progress. And also Flo, almost immediately, she was a maid once, but she's the one who's the non-actress, the violinist, who, very soon, was the ingenue. They had people like Helen Hayes and Ruth Gordon and John Barrymore. There would be one great actor or actress every week to put on a show that had gone on Broadway. But their cast there did the other parts. So she got wonderful experience. Dottie, in the meantime, she had to do a few more maids, and eventually she did the most wonderful performance of "Gaslight." You know that play?
Knight: Oh, yes, very well.
Campbell: "Angel Street," I guess, was the name of the play that I saw. Her son said, "Aunt Beth, I didn't want to go. I must have made Mother feel terrible. I said I'd
go, but I wouldn't take Marcia [his girl]. I didn't want to see Mother act. I thought I'd be embarrassed, and I shouldn't. It was the greatest acting I've ever seen in my life!" [Laughter.] He was a senior in high school then. But anyhow, she was good, too. When they lived in New York, she directed plays for the New York YMCA, which was not too far from where they lived. Then she was in the Little Theater in Bryn Mawr, outside of Philadelphia, and also when they had to move to Toledo she was in their little theater, too.
But in the meantime, Flo had been moving up—not easily, not easily—I went to see her one time. By this time, I'm making a pretty good salary, not that it was a very good salary compared to a lot of other kinds of salaries, but as far as the newspaper business was concerned, with the Associated Press here in Washington. I met her after whatever each of us had to do that morning in New York City, to go to lunch, and she said, "I hope you won't mind. We're really having a very special lunch. Normally we only have hamburgers, but today we're having peas as well as hamburgers." [Laughter.] She and three other girls were living together, and I went up there to have the lunch. She's the one who ought to have her story told. She was just really—I remember this very good friend of hers came in, and everybody said, "Did you get a cigarette?" They couldn't afford to buy cigarettes. [Laughter.] These are four people trying to get into the theater, you see, auditioning every day, getting turned down. But they all made it one way or the other. Flo was the only one who made it to a real success. Janie Bancroft, whose father owned The Wall Street Journal at that time, got into a character part and did a very good job with it. Dottie Bailey was an artist, after she got a play, not on Broadway, but she got something. "Peach" Parsons, a Baltimore debutante worked several months in a department store to stretch the year in New York which her father had permitted.
Knight: These are all your sister's roommates?
Campbell: Yes. These are the four girls I had lunch with, who don't have cigarettes even. So when one of them has a date, you know, hopefully he'll offer her a cigarette, and she'll bring it home, and they'll split it. [Laughter.]
Knight: Looking at your family, it seems extraordinary. I mean, you've got women that made some risky career choices as a group, just the three of you.
Campbell: Yes. Yes, we did.
Knight: I'm curious what your folks thought about that. They obviously—
Campbell: I am sure Daddy was just really awfully upset about it when Flo went to Chicago. He was about ready to go after her, I'm sure. I wasn't home. I was working on the Springfield paper. But I'm sure what happened was that Mother just persuaded him that there was no sense in trying to stop Flo; she was going to study to be an actress. She had never been in so much as a high school play. Dottie had been the lead in both the junior and the senior plays in high school, but Flo won the violin contest for the best violinist in the state at the annual university thing, like this debate thing I went to.
Knight: So did she go to Chicago to study violin or to be an actress?
Campbell: She went to Chicago to study violin, and she didn't study to be an actress at all in Chicago. She had very good training. I don't know whether it was Sametini or Auer—they were the two top people there—who told her, after a year and a half or two years that she could make a good living with her violin, that she already was
ready to go into a symphony orchestra and soon would be fine for concerts all over the country, but that she wouldn't ever be a—who was that boy? Heifitz?
Campbell: Well, he was, you know, very young, and he was the star all over the country and making a lot of money. He said, "You'll never make money like he does, because you're—" I've forgotten what he said. "You have genius, but you don't have—"—something else. But at any rate, so that's when she decided, after she won this—well, to even enter this Le Gallienne thing. Dottie couldn't do it because she was married. She didn't want to go off on her own. But Flo entered through a coupon in the Chicago Tribune and won.
Knight: Getting back to you—
Campbell: I'd rather talk about my twin sisters.
Knight: They're wonderful! I can understand that. You're obviously proud of them. You had mentioned earlier that your dad was in business for himself?
Campbell: Yes. At one point he had a grocery store, owned it, you know, and ran it. At another point, he added what we called then a dry goods store. They sold, between the two of them—they were right next to each other—about everything anybody could buy. It was right when the Depression came, right after the supermarket business hit. What did they call—gee, I thought I'd remember that, like we do now, like everybody does now, you just go pick out your own groceries.
Campbell: Yes. There were names for these places that came in. But the kind of service that Daddy had always provided, he had plenty of people to wait on everybody, and whether it was hats over in the dry goods department or meat in the butcher shop, they were service. But the Piggly Wiggly, that was the first one. They came into town, and although Daddy still had the richest people. I remember Mr. L.E. Phillips, who was a friend of mine's father, came in to tell Daddy one time that, "It upsets me, because I understand a lot of people are going to the Piggly Wiggly, and you have the best business I've ever seen." [Laughter.] "The kind of service you've given, it just isn't fair." But it was true. So Dad always had more service than the typical self- service place does. But anyhow, he managed to make a good living and lived til 82, without having to call on his children to support him.
Knight: So when you all moved, you lived in Alluwe. And you lived there til you were 12?
Campbell: No, no, I lived there until I was seven months.
Knight: Oh, just a little bit, then you moved somewhere else.
Campbell: Then my dad bought a little farm near where my mother had gone down to teach from the University of Arkansas. She'd taken this job near Alluwe and was teaching in a school there. Dad met her, and they decided to get married. His father and mother had a farm, and that was what he was doing. But that wasn't going to be enough money for him to separate and go, so he got a job as a tool dresser on an oil well, and other things like that.
So then he bought this farm when I was just a baby, and I don't know what the dates were. But at any rate, the grasshopper scourge hit, and every single growing thing on that farm was eaten up by grasshoppers. Well, through the years, since he had been there and his family had gotten a boarding house for him to stay in to go to high school in Nowata, because Alluwe wasn't big enough to have a high school. [Laughter.] So he'd gotten acquainted, and then we had lots of uncles and aunts around, too. So he knew a lot of people in Nowata, and he decided to go into politics. He only did it for, I guess, two years or four, maybe. But he ran for Registrar of Deeds and won, so he sold the little farm and moved into Nowata. That was when I was, I think, two years old.
So after he had been Registrar of Deeds a while, he went to work for an uncle who had a store, grocery store, in the center of the town. That was the biggest business in this little tiny town, and then gradually saved money and bought the store from him with another man. He couldn't do it all by himself. He went up from there. By the time we moved to Bartlesville when I was 12, he not only bought a store over there, but he bought a house, a nice house, and so he was doing fine.
Knight: Were your parents very politically involved?
Campbell: No, not at all.
Knight: Did you ever talk politics around the house?
Campbell: Oh, not in a sense that I'm used to, where regardless of whatever job I had, I kept up with whoever the candidates were for everything. So my children have always heard the pros and cons and this kind of thing discussed at the dinner table. But I don't remember Mother and Daddy talking about it. They knew everybody, but I don't remember their running. Like, for instance, my son now, this past Sunday had a reception for whoever's running for mayor of Baltimore. [Laughter.]
Knight: Your mother worked as a teacher before she got married.
Knight: Then she stopped teaching?
Knight: And did she ever again work outside the home?
Campbell: No. She taught music inside the home, and she could always get as many pupils as she wanted, so she did just as much as we needed, or as she needed. But she had enough contacts with other people; I don't think she had the need for a job outside. But, for instance, when I went there [Bartlesville], if I hadn't seen Mrs. John Kain, who was the wife of the counsel of the Phillips Petroleum Company, for 20-some years—she was the best friend of Mother's that I could think of left in Bartlesville—because everybody seemed to have moved away. I couldn't find anybody I knew. [Laughter.] I called her up, and oh, she was so glad to hear from me. She said, "You know, I think of your mother so often." She said, "She was the smartest woman we've ever had here in Bartlesville." I don't know how big it is now, but it was then not a very big town—15,000. Nowata was 5,000; Bartlesville was 15,000. I think it's 65,000 now. But at any rate, she said, "You know, I didn't go to your church, but everybody talked about that time when they invited her to take over the young married Sunday school class, because it had gotten down to about four couples
or two couples or something." She said, "I don't know how long it took, but everybody in town knew about it, because pretty soon there were 100 people there every Sunday morning." [Laughter.] And said, "And there were single people who weren't married who were asking if they couldn't go, too." [Laughter.] But, of course, that was the humor again, I expect. Well, humor and intelligence and good teaching skills. But teaching is something she could do. I've never seen a Sunday school class, you know, in a small church that big. It had to be that the humor was the thing that really pulled people out of their beds on Sunday morning.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Campbell: Well, at any rate, you asked about politics. If they were, they didn't talk to us children about it.
Knight: They didn't talk about a career specifically. Did you ever get the impression that there were things that you couldn't do?
Campbell: No, no, no. There wasn't anything I couldn't do. [Laughter.] We all felt that way. I think that would be Mother. Daddy would just live it, you know. If he got knocked down by Depression, he'd build it up again. But Mother just always talked that way. It was just like I could win the debate or, of course, the paper would be all right. I remember somebody said to her, in my presence, something about, "Who do you suppose will be the valedictorian at the high school class this year?" And Mother said, "Well, I think that Beth and Margaret Stewart will share it." She was the girl I was on the debate team with and also on the paper with. And they never had had anybody share one before. So, you know, I didn't pay any attention to it.
But some time or another, I said, "Mother, do you really think I have a chance?" She said, "I don't think there's any question. You've made the National Honor Society, and you made top grades in all your classes." She went on, not to be particularly proud of it, but it was just inevitable, if you do your work.
Knight: Did you feel like it was expected of you?
Campbell: No, no. No, I don't think. I don't know. It's so hard to know too much about your parents when you're little.
I got so mad at my dad sometimes, I didn't know what to do, because he wouldn't let me date when I got to be in high school. When I was a junior, even, and was invited to go on a picnic, and the brother of one of my friends, who was five years older than any of us were, was going along for chaperone, and Daddy knew Paul, but I had to tell them when they came by that I couldn't go. And I almost died. [Laughter.] It never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to go on a picnic with a group of boys and girls that I knew very well, with a chaperone, even Paul, though he was only 22 or something. But anyway, he was a strict father, and things like that made me get awfully mad at him. I don't ever remember being awfully mad at my mother. If I ever had been, she would have said something funny. [Laughter.] I would have laughed out loud, and that would have been it. [Laughter.] But it was the same with all of us.
Of course, Jack, I think, had a special relationship—even though Mother was ill toward the end of his five years that he had, that God gave him and gave her. I went home. I quit my job, even though I'd been there five years, and, you know, there wasn't any question that the paper liked me and wanted me. But this was still soon
after the Depression. It was the summer of 1934, and I'd gone to work on the paper in '29. This was Springfield. And Mother, by this time, is in Oklahoma City with Daddy and Jack. So she had refused to let me come to the hospital five years before when she'd been first operated on. She realized that I was just starting a new job, and I didn't think about that at the time; I thought she was being real mean to me, not to let me come. But I later realized it probably meant an awful lot that I didn't quit then. But when she got sick again and she wrote and asked me to come, that was the greatest honor anybody could have done me, for Mother to want me, you know. So when I asked for a leave of absence, George said, "We just can't give you one." They'd already cut salaries 40%, some 25, and I had never had mine cut. I went to work at $25 a week.
But at any rate, so I just said, "I'm going to have to resign, because my mother is sick."
When I got home on the Fourth of July, Flo and Dottie didn't get there until August, as soon as they were through at Cape Playhouse, and they cut it off just as fast as they could. So all four of us children were there until October, when she died— October 31st. Oh, we had such a wonderful time. I remember once we'd all been out of the house for something. Jack wasn't there at the time. But Flo and Dottie and I had. Suddenly, here's Mother, sick in bed, has been for months, and she is at this point all swollen, how some people get, depending on where their cancer is. But we heard this music coming from the house, and it was our piano, we were pretty sure. It didn't sound like anything on a record. And we all went in, and there was Mother. She'd gotten up somehow, by herself, this fat little somebody we'd never seen, she'd never been fat before in her life, and was on the piano stool, and this was Sousa's march. That's a hilarious kind of a thing like this. [Laughter.]
But you know, another time we'd go in, one of us, and she would start reciting one of the most rarely heard Shakespearean plays, do maybe a couple of scenes, and all by heart, just lying there in bed. Then there was the one time when she called us all in. She said, "Flo, you're the one that asked me about this, but I want Beth and Dottie to hear, too. You were asking me, you said that you wanted me to teach you how to cook basic things."
And Flo said, "All I said to you, Mother, was that all you ever gave me or Beth or anybody was just stuff we could catch a beau with, good desserts to serve a guy at ter we've been to the movies." [Laughter.] "But I don't know how to cook rice! Not good like you do."
So Mother said, "All right, everybody get a notebook and get ready." And she said, "We'll start at the beginning. Way to warm up leftover vegetables. Place vegetable in a vessel, on a tray, go outdoors into the sunshine, hold the tray parallel with your diaphragm, and stand there for 35 minutes." [Laughter.] "And then it will be fine."
We went on to rice and lima beans and navy beans, these things that it's true, I heard later from other girls my age, that their mothers had never taught them to do that kind of thing, too. Everybody just kind of took it for granted you knew. We had, I think, done it at home, but we didn't know why. And when we got away from home, and cookbooks—well, for one thing, we didn't have any money. My daughter-in-law has about $200 worth of cookbooks. My daughter has, I don't know, somewhere near that many. But at any rate, that was the kind of thing Mother did when she was sick. [Laughter.]
Knight: That's a special time.
Campbell: Oh, boy. We were just so lucky that we could all be there. Just wonderful. And then it turned out with me that it was a good time. It would have been hard to just quit the Leader and take another job. I had been offered a job in Cleveland and had even gone up there on a little short vacation and taken a look at it, but I decided I couldn't live in Cleveland; it's too cold. [Laughter.]
Knight: Going back, tell me about the high school paper.
Campbell: Oh, it was so exciting.
Knight: How did you know you wanted to be on it? When did you make that decision?
Campbell: I don't remember the occasion, except that in this school, I guess, I don't know any other high schools around there that had journalism. But it was something like a two-hour course a week that most anybody could fit into their schedule somehow, if they wanted to. I had done so, and so had Margaret, who was co-editor and a good friend. We had a teacher who gave us jobs to do when we first started in this, to work on the paper. Of course, they were the simplest jobs that you had, but it wasn't very long until we were writing stories and covering stories and writing headlines and so on. In the first place, both of us, it wasn't as if one of us was an expert on this and one on that; we both were interested in the whole school, in what everybody did, in what everybody was like. So we just worked the whole business. And by the next year, we were joint editors.
I don't know what I liked best about it, but I think it's a kind of selfish like, but I did enjoy knowing everything that was going on. That's a good feeling. You could do it in your home, but in a school—why, I was proud as could be! Of course, that was why we were pretty good editors, because we insisted on knowing everything that was going on. [Laughter.] And it was a good paper, and it should have won a prize.
But at the same time, we were both working on the debate team. Oh, I remember one day, I was so upset. I woke up with a cold, and it was the day we were supposed to go to Vinita, which was 50, 75 miles away, to debate, and we didn't have trains to Vinita; you had to go in a car. The coach had arranged cars or a car, I guess—only two of us. But anyway, I told Mother, "I can't call up the school and tell them I can't. There's no way anybody could take my place. It would just mean we would lose out." We'd won all our debates so far, and I didn't want a loss. [Laughter.] I could hardly talk. Well, Mother told me to keep my mouth shut at home; I didn't need to talk to her. She got me some hot water, and I gargled. Fortunately, I had gotten up quite early, so I had a couple of hours. She called the school and told Miss Bonjour what should I do, that I was willing to try, but that I could hardly talk, you know, much less make a speech. [Laughter.]
So Miss Bonjour said, "We don't have anybody else. If you think it won't hurt her to come, to go on the trip over there, then if she can talk by the time we get there, participate." So that was about as much pain as I think I've suffered in all my high school career. I was thinking I couldn't, but when I got there, somehow I was able to debate, and we won. [Laughter.]
Knight: Anything else about the paper that you recall?
Knight: You became editor. Was that elected, or were you willing to serve? How did it happen?
Campbell: Well, the staff discussed it. I don't remember any election. And the teacher recommended it. I think that was how it was. I don't remember any contest.
Knight: But you were editor for two years?
Campbell: Yes. Most people didn't want to compete with us. They didn't want to spend that much time. You know, it takes time after school, a good deal of it. Of course, the debate, mostly you can do that at home, writing speeches and reading. But the paper, you just had to go see people and talk to people and write things, and then talk to somebody else to get the other picture. So I think that's why nobody tried to push us out or get rid of us.
Knight: How many people worked on the paper?
Campbell: Oh, 15 or so. We did have a good staff, good help.
Knight: At that time, when you were in high school, were you still interested in writing novels and writing like that?
Campbell: I don't remember thinking of it, because I just had my mind on the paper. As soon as I finished high school, let's see, that first summer I had a job figuring the charts for the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company.
Knight: Was that a summer job?
Campbell: A summer job, figuring charts for the ITIO—Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company. It was part of a great big oil installation, and these charts had a zigzag showing how much oil and how much gas was produced every five minutes or half an hour or something, and you had to put numbers to show what it was. So that isn't very important. But at any rate, the next summer I got a job on the city paper.
Knight: This is a summer when you were in high school or college?
Campbell: No, this is when I—
Knight: When you started college.
Campbell: I didn't have a job until I—oh, oh, I had one— [Laughter.] until I finished high school. Then that first job, the real job I had was ITIO, and I loved it, because I bought my mother a brown winter coat with fur on it. But what I had done, I did make some equivalent of money. I had had six years of piano, starting at age six, and I just got so interested when I got to junior high and high school in other things at school, that I told Mother—and this did disappoint her very much, she didn't want me to. She kept up her music all her life, her mother had, and her sister had. And Flo, my violinist sister turned actress, practiced four hours every day—two hours in the morning, from 6:00 until 8:00, and two hours in the afternoon, from 4:00 until 6:00, in the dining room. And boy, we shut the doors. [Laughter.] But that's an awful lot of violin practice to listen to. But anyhow, she did it. Of course, even after she was with Le Gallienne, she played some—oh, "Ave Maria" or something like that backstage for some play they were doing, and after she really got
into the theater, she didn't get to play very much. But every once in a while, she got to play, and she would play in some quartet or something like that, just to keep her hand in.
Knight: You said you had taken six years of piano.
Campbell: And then I quit. Mother was unhappy, but I wasn't unhappy. But my senior year in high school, I suddenly realized that what I had done was throw away something good, because at first, when I quit, I could still play "The Lovely Month of May" or whatever my last piece had been. [Laughter.] But I had gotten to the point where I just couldn't play anything, really. So I didn't think, after all that money had been wasted on me, that I ought to let my parents pay for lessons. So I went to the best piano teacher in Bartlesville, where Dottie—Flo was taking violin lessons at the same studio, two women, Mrs. Brezeale and Mrs. Durnell, and Dottie was taking from Mrs. Durnell, the piano, too. So I said, "I haven't taken any lessons since I was 12 years old, and I am now 15. I want to see if I can get some of it back, and I don't want to ask my folks for the money. But if I made you a cake every Saturday, would you teach me piano?"
"Oh," she said, "I've love it." [Laughter.] She said, "Neither one of us likes to make cakes. What kind of cakes can you make?"
And I said, "Angel food, coconut, chocolate, a whole batch." I had won a prize at the county fair with a cake once, and I told her that. [Laughter.] So she did let me, and so I took piano lessons my last year in high school. It didn't bring me back to where I would have been, but I still can sit down over there and pick out something, you know.
Knight: So you went off to Christian College.
Knight: How was that decided?
Campbell: Well, I don't know. We belonged to the Christian Church, and so we heard more about it. I did hear more about it than others. I think Daddy was the one who didn't much want me to go to a university my freshman year; a smaller school, where I'd get better care would be better. And Mother just liked everything she heard about the school. So I think that was why, and I liked it.
Knight: Did you get involved with the paper there or any activities while you were there?
Campbell: Well, yes. [Looking at bookshelf] I don't see it.
Knight: Is that a yearbook?
Campbell: Yes, that's the Sooner down at the university, because I went the next year to the University of Oklahoma. But I did something for the annual of the college, but I don't think we had a paper. I don't remember being on it. Margaret Stewart, the same girl that I had been with on the paper and the debating team, also went to Christian. It's now Columbia College. They changed the name somewhere along the line. I got mad as could be at them, not for that—I don't think that was very nice either, because it had been Christian College for so many years, and I thought that was a lovely name, but they came to me, after I was—I know I was sitting at a big
desk somewhere. I guess that was with Social Security. This man from Christian College made an appointment and came to call, and what he wanted to do was to try to get me to talk President Truman into letting them rename the college Truman College. And I blew up. [Laughter.] I thought that was just—I thought Christian College—I only went one year. I didn't really feel like a graduate. But I did feel a pride in the college, and thought it had given me a wonderful year. And to go, just trying to get somebody important to use the name, I thought it would be so unfair to President Truman to use his name to pull people in with, when that really had nothing to do with it at all. They were just trying to get more students. So they changed it to Columbia College, in spite of my blowing up about their changing it to Truman. I still get mail from them, which I promptly put in the wastebasket. [Laughter.]
Knight: Why did you decide to leave there?
Campbell: Oh, I had wanted to go to the university before.
Knight: So you had always wanted to go. You had had it in your mind to go to the university, and your dad said no.
Campbell: I don't know that I ever made a direct request, but the idea had gotten through. And I had loved the idea of going up into Missouri to go to Christian, I enjoyed all the material that I had. I had very good professors. Oh, I wrote my—now there's where I did some writing. That was fiction. When I was at Christian, in my English course, the freshman English, the teacher had us write a full-length short story on any subject that we chose. I remember having a terrible time thinking about a subject, but the more civilized people at school, fellow students, always thought of me as a little kind of wild, coming from Oklahoma, not quite civilized yet. [Laughter.] So I thought, "I'll show them." So I wrote a story about being gored to death by a bull— [Laughter.] —in a rodeo down in Oklahoma. No, not by a bull. That's over in Spain, they do that. This was in roping a steer. I had seen lots of rodeos, so I could remember that. But it did take a bit of research, so I felt like I was on the debate team again, because when you actually write a story, you have to know a lot of little details, and when you watch a rodeo, you don't necessarily collect. So I did a bunch of research and got an A on my paper, so I decided I was really a fiction writer. [Laughter.]
But that was the last fiction I wrote til I was on the Daily Oklahoman. They had had an Associated Press weekly continued story. Lots of papers did then. I don't know if you've ever seen them or not. But at any rate, it wasn't any good, and they'd been getting a lot of fuss about it from readers. So they decided that I should do a continued story once a week, and it was to be fiction, and it was to be placed in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, but the people were not to be real. [Laughter.] Well, anyhow, that was my next piece of fiction, and really had something to do with my coming to Washington, because nobody ever knew about it. I certainly didn't mention it to anyone. But when I was on the Oklahoman, and twice—no, that comes later—but I was on the Oklahoman when I had a vacation, and I had a two weeks' vacation on the Oklahoman, which I had never had but a week on the Springfield paper. So I made my trip to New York, but that's where I always wanted to go to see my sisters, or Chicago at first, before they went to New York. But at any rate, I don't know if I remember enough about this or not.
Well, what happens, I was sent to Philadelphia to the Democratic Convention, to cover the Democratic Convention in 1934. No, wait—it has to be '36. I took a job, when Mother died, after Mother died, I went to work on the Daily Oklahoman, and that was why it was pretty good that I had quit, instead of taking a leave of absence from
the Springfield paper. But at any rate, I had a wonderful time. They sent to chaperone me an editorial writer who was 80. [Laughter.] So he was wonderful. He would say, "I didn't see you dancing last night. You don't know any of these boys around here, do you?" I had just arrived, and I didn't. Then he introduced me to some, and I had a great time. But at any rate, I met a number of very famous people, mainly writers. I guess that was the first time I met H.L. Mencken.
But at any rate, I did go to the convention, and I met some of the people from AP in New York, and I already knew Sigrid Arne, who had been a reporter in Oklahoma City, when I had been a student at OU. She's the one I told you about that I thought was really the most important newswoman who finished her job at the AP. She was with Feature Service, not the general staff, the news staff, but she was in charge of the U.N. coverage for about six years, I guess.
Then the AP had a rule at that time—stupid!—55. Men could work til 65; women had to be retired at 55. And you had to have, of course, been with the AP your whole life, practically, to get very much of a pension. I lost every pension. I had a pension free of charge at every paper where I worked, but as soon as I left—gone. I remember getting so upset about Sigrid. She immediately went home to Cleveland, where she'd come from, and got a job on the Cleveland News, the one on which she'd worked when she first started out. So she wasn't hurt financially, but it was just the idea that was so wrong. They've changed it now. But if you're a woman, you're getting first on things. I think any woman who does anything much, finds something that she's the first one who's ever done it.
Anyhow, I was there in Philadelphia, and I was going the minute it was over to my sisters in New York, and I didn't have much time up there, about two or three days. I got a call from Dottie. I guess I was going to stay with her. She said, "The Associated Press's vice president, Mr. So-and-so, wants you to call as soon as you get to New York. I just thought I'd tell you you might see somebody who would know about it down there, but I don't think you would want to mention it. I just thought as soon as you get here, you're to call him."
I didn't know him, but when I got to New York—I mustn't leave that convention, but I slapped a senator's face. [Laughter.]
Knight: Tell me about that. Then I want to go back and talk about college some more. But tell me about that.
Campbell: Oh, I shouldn't tell you for anything if it's going to be public. I never told it to anybody for press or anything. But, you know, this was my first experience with a senator just being fresh. That's all it was. He just kissed me, but he had no business to kiss me. [Laughter.] It was in front of a whole lot of people in a great big room there in Philadelphia, where they were having something to do with the convention. His wife was there, too. But, you know, I just couldn't stand it to have this perfectly strange man grab me and hold me tight and kiss me. And I just involuntarily— [Laughter.]— only 75 people saw it. [Laughter.]
But at any rate, when I got to New York, I can't figure the man's name now, but I did know it very well for a great many years, and I'll probably think about it. At any rate, they wanted me to have lunch with him, he and somebody else, and talk about a possible job on the Feature Service. So I quickly made my plans to go join him for a talk. The thing that made me think about it was writing that fiction for the Daily Oklahoman, because the job that he offered me was fiction editor of the Associated Press Feature Service. [Laughter.] It was to write a continued story. Apparently a
lot of papers had them, and they must have heard that I had taken this one on. I said, "I am not a fiction writer. I don't know anything about it. You don't want me. I don't know who you are, but you don't want me." Well, yes, they did. They wanted somebody with a news background, who would let the current world come through the fiction somehow, if that means anything to you. [Laughter.] And the salary sounded pretty wonderful. Washington was where I would be based. I decided. I said, "Well, I have to call my boss in Oklahoma City first." They'd been so nice to me.
And I did, and Skipper said, "Oh, well, we knew this was going to happen sometime," or something like that. "Go ahead. I think you're wise to take it." I really did want his judgment on the call, as well as telling him and getting permission.
So I went back and told them that I would take it, except that I had to leave for Washington, to come down and spend a day. My first trip to Washington. I'd never even seen the Washington Monument or the Library of Congress, two of the things I wanted to see most. So I made the arrangements with them about when I would do what, and resign, and come, and everything.
I had just gotten to Washington, gone with Sigrid to her house, and I got a call from the vice president of the AP Feature Service. And he said, "I am so sorry. I don't know how to say this to you, and I just don't have it happen very often, if ever before."
But Kent Cooper, who was the general manager of the AP, over all news features, everything, had gotten back to town from wherever he'd been, and he said, "We cannot have a feature service. We are not going to fool with that fiction anymore. I'm sorry you hired somebody to do this. We can't do it. We can't hire anybody right now, and certainly, if we could, we would hire them to do the story."
So he said, "There's nothing I can do but cancel it. I feel terrible to tell you that."
Now you wanted to go back somewhere in my childhood or somewhere.
Knight: Your college days. I want to return to it, because you did get another opportunity later on. I like to kind of follow chronology, but I don't mind if we get off.
Campbell: Well, you're smart enough to take me back, you know.
Knight: We can weave our way back and forth. After you went to Christian College, then you went to the University of Oklahoma. What did you do that summer, the summer of your freshman year? Did you work? Did you get a job?
Campbell: I'm sure I did, but I don't know what I did. I went back home. Oh, that was when I got a job on the local paper, the Bartlesville Examiner.
Knight: Tell me about that.
Campbell: Well, that was fun. Oh, that was nice. They had had a society editor, and that was all they had ever had in the women's field. Peggy wanted to go to Europe. She had never been to Europe. She had been society for 15 years or something. So they were going to have to replace her, and they were really shaky about it. But
maybe, you know, for a summer, they wouldn't get too involved. [Laughter.] So they gave me a job at a very small salary, but at any rate, it was a job on a real paper. They started me with very simple news stories, but after a while, you know, I had had enough experience that it was easy.
But then they wanted me to do features. The one that I remember—I mean, I must have done lots more interesting things, probably, but at that time, hitchhiking had become interesting—a lot of people hitchhiked—and also dangerous. My mother and father picked up a hitchhiker who tried to steal the car from them; he didn't succeed. Daddy kept hold of it. But at any rate, they wanted me to find out how many people really would still pick up people. I don't know why they thought I was a good thing to try it out on, but I was to start in the morning. Dewey, Oklahoma, was 4 miles from Bartlesville. I was to start at Dewey and come back to Bartlesville. So I had my dad or somebody, Mother, take me to Dewey, and I started walking. Well, it was important that the time was kept, because everybody who passed offered me a ride. [Laughter.] I got up to 104 or something like that! [Laughter.] They had some sort of an idea that this was going to show that people didn't pick up hitchhikers anymore. [Laughter.]
Knight: Did you write the story?
Campbell: Oh, sure.
Knight: What did you say?
Campbell: Just exactly what I—I did describe some of them, you know, in more detail than I've given you, but the interesting thing was that they almost all stopped.
Knight: Well, we've been at it an hour and a half.
Campbell: Have we?
Knight: It's hard to believe, isn't it?
Campbell: It really is.
Knight: I think we'll stop for the day and leave us both wanting more. I'll see you again when you get back to this neck of the woods.